Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

My name is Happy StompingBear, and I’m doing time in Arkansas prison. I want to write a little bit about the work that inmates must do. 

First I want everyone to know Arkansas does not pay inmate workers. It is one of only two or three states that still refuses to pay us for the labor we do. It is legalized slavery even though the United Nations had signed the Nelson Mandela Rule, which sets standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners. 

Most of my time in prison I have been assigned to the “hoe squad.” We all go outside and bang the dirt with hoes like on TV. We do not bang at our own pace. We must bang, bang, bang, fast, faster, harder. If we leave grass behind we can be written up, which keeps us from our families. 

We do this all day. What purpose does it serve to do this in these ditches all day every day? Why not use weed eaters? Why do it at all? Why must the hoe squad riders sit up there on their horses, yelling at us to hurry, calling us weak pussies and writing disciplinaries on those who can’t keep up? What purpose does this all serve? I’ll tell you what it does. It gives the strong another way to pick at the weak. It has inmates getting mad at other inmates and causing fights. It has people working so hard they don’t ever want to work again. 

I remember the day I quit. I worked all day, came in beet red. I was badly sun-burned. I went to the infirmary,but  they told me they don’t treat sun burns. They would not get me a day or two off from work. I quit because I decided I was done being a slave. I knew the consequences, and to me, they were the better of the two evils. Then later I found text in the “The Charge of the Goddess” (by Dorseen Valiente) that gave me a positive duty not to participate in slavery. 

I was not allowed to call home for years. I did time in the hole, and went to the max. I went through all this but I kept my pledge. I would not work for the state again. I would not be a slave. Now I have a lawsuit that touches on this, I’m pro sé (representing myself) and need help… 

We receive no pay, no reward, only punishment if the work doesn’t meet their standards. We do all this work and they profit off of it. 

I ask the world to call our governor, the Congress, whoever and ask, why does Arkansas still participate in slavery? 

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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Happy StompingBear

Happy Mystik Rainbow StompingBear is a Native American, transgender writer incarcerated at Ouachita River Corrections Unit in Arkansas. She said Happy should be written with a star instead of an “a” because she is bright and shiny. Mystik represents her faith, Rainbow her transgender identity, and StompingBear, her heritage as a member of Muscogee Nation.